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Transforming an organization is never easy, no matter how large or small the company. Some recent research quantifies exactly what’s necessary and offers some for how to design and implement full-scale change.

The big takeaway is that you have to eliminate the guesswork when it comes to a new direction, whether it’s a small reorganization, a new initiative or a full-scale visit.

A study from McKinsey and Company of 1,662 executives found those who cultivated a successful change were able to get their organization’s influencers on board and articulate a clear vision for all.

It further suggests the most effective transformation initiatives draw upon four key actions — role modeling, fostering understanding and conviction, reinforcing changes through formal mechanisms, and developing talent and skills.

Balance Strengths, Weaknesses

Leaders love to call a team’s attention to their strengths. It builds morale and can help give a company a renewed sense of focus.

According to the McKinsey study you should definitely do that. However, for maximum results both strengths and weaknesses need to be part of the discussion

McKinsey report

The researchers recommend three strategies to keep everything in place: comprehensiveness, complementarity and context. When that happens, 76 percent of transformations are successful, compared with 22 percent when none of those elements are there.

Comprehensiveness involves ensuring that every possible detail about how a large change will impact everyone is dissected.

To be “complementarity,” one must be willing to change mindsets and behaviors about how everyone’s role in the company will change.

Also, all initiatives must explore how it will change the context of people’s jobs. If the accounting team is going to be forced to use new software, then it needs to know how that impacts their expectations, for example.

Of course, success lies in the eye of the beholder. But after a survey of related research some common themes develop.

A Deep Tie to Leadership

The McKinsey study notes how transformations are far more successful when key leaders are involved. It shouldn't be an autocratic, top-down approach. There must be an effort to join those who have influence at multiple levels.

“When key influencers are involved in a transformation’s design, 68 percent of respondents report a successful transformation — which is greater than the 60 percent who report success when their companies’ top teams are involved,” the study found.

Additionally, many of these findings were confirmed by earlier research from the MITRE Corp., a federally funded research group that offers consulting services. MITRE recommends a very scientific and engineering-focused approach by collecting data, meeting with key leaders and gathering a “big picture” understanding of where the organization wants to go.

Throughout the organization's transformation process, the ongoing themes are leadership, culture and a clearly articulated vision.

Any change generates dissent. But you can minimize it by continuing to gather input, getting the leaders on board and creating a clear goal will lead to the change you’re seeking.

Keep Pushing

Transforming an organization is like any wide-scale challenge. Everyone needs to have buy-in and believe where the team is going.

This is certainly much easier to understand than put into practice. That’s why getting your key stakeholders to support the vision is key. The report also notes:

“Leaders would do well to spend time thinking through the design process to ensure that their transformations are focused and that multiple stakeholders are involved.”

With such practices, you’ll greatly improve the chances for transformational success.

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